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Ford v. Wainwright 477 U.S. 399 (1986)

FORD v. WAINWRIGHT 477 U.S. 399 (1986)

The Supreme Court held, 5–4, that the infliction of capital punishment on an insane prisoner violates the ban on cruel and unusual punishments imposed by the Eight Amendment and the fourteenth amendment. Justice thurgood marshall for the majority applied the principle that the Eighth Amendment recognizes the evolving standards of decency of a maturing society. No state today permits the execution of the insane. Even at the time of the adoption of the bill of rights, the common law disapproved execution of the insane because it lacked retributive value and had no deterrence value. Marshall ruled that Florida's procedure for determining a condemned prisoner's sanity failed to rely on the judiciary to ensure neutrality in fact-finding.

The dissenting Justices contended that the Eighth Amendment did not mandate a right not to be executed while insane. Justice william h. rehnquist observed that at common law the executive controlled the procedure by which the sanity of the condemned prisoner was judged. The dissenters refused to endorse a constitutional right to a judicial determination of sanity before the death penalty could be imposed. Justice lewis f. powell was the swing vote in this case. He agreed that the Eighth Amendment prohibited the execution of the insane, but declined to endorse Justice Marshall's virtual requirement of a judicial proceeding to determine sanity.

Leonard W. Levy

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